Monthly Archives: August 2009

“JAZZ ULTIMATE,” CERTAINLY

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CHARLES PETERSON’S VISION

This is the second part of what I hope will be a long series on the jazz photography of Charles Peterson, who mystically saw the essence of jazz.  00000005

Here’s Peterson the documentary photographer — his casual, offhanded shot of a quartet led by Sidney Bechet, who is characteristically both in command and absolutely at the service of the music he is creating, the experience ecstatic and powerful.  What I find fascinating are the expressions on the faces of his sidemen: Cliff Jackson (whom I remember seeing in later photographs as white-haired) looks up at the Master to see where the currents of music are going; Eddie Dougherty, a wonderful and little-known Brooklyn-born drummer, seems anxious, although he may have only been caught in mid-comment, and Wellman Braud is quietly gleeful, rocking in rhythm.  They seem small objects drawn into Bechet’s vortex.  The photo suggests that any cohesive jazz group forms itself into a unit, but each musician retains his or her essential personality, and in this picture we see the quiet tension between the Selves and the Community.  And this photo brings up another of Peterson’s unintended gifts to us: how many people ever were fortunate enough to be at the Mimo Club in Harlem to hear this quartet, much less at this moment on February 16, 1942?  But — with a substantial record collection, some memory and imagination — we can invent the music that this band is creating. 

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This is a new split-second capture from a famous jazz session and photo shoot: the Commodore Records session of April 20, 1939, where Billie Holiday recorded STRANGE FRUIT, YESTERDAYS, I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, and FINE AND MELLOW.  The musicians are bassist Johnny Williams, trumpeter Frank Newton, altoist Stanley Payne, and tenorist Kenneth Hollon.  Billie is holding a long-noted syllable; is it the “Yes” in YESTERDAYS?  And she is very young, very beautiful, also giving herself up to the music, her hands folded, her eyes almost-shut, Peterson’s lighting capturing her mouth, chin, and throat.  What distinguishes this portrait from others at this session is Billie’s lovely and obviously-treasured fur coat.  I find it ironic, seventy years after the session, that there is such a gap between Billie in her fur — which she deserved more than anyone — and the material she sings with such deep emotion.  One song, most famous, describes lynchings in the South; another describes a “fine and mellow” lover who doesn’t treat his woman well; a third and fourth describe bygone happinesses, all gone now, and the blues one sings when one’s lover has left.  And Billie sang these four songs as if her heart would break . . . wearing that fur coat.  Later in the session, of course, she got warm and took it off.  And no doubt the irony didn’t occur to her and she would have laughed it off if someone pointed it out, “Lady, you look too good to be singing those blues!”00000010

Hard at work is all I can say.  The caption states that this is the Summa Cum Laude band — led in part by Bud Freeman, arrangements by valve-trombonist Brad Gowans — performing at Nick’s in December 1938.  The band must be negotiating some serious ensemble passage, for they all look so intent.  Bassist Clyde Newcome stares out into space, as does Pee Wee Russell; Gowans and Freeman, especially Brad, are watching the band warily, or perhaps Brad is reading the music off the stand in the center.  I would guess that the drummer is Al Sidell, but I would hope that it is Stan King* — drummers shuttled in and out of this band.  The rather somber effect of this picture suggests to me that the band is playing one of its medleys of current hits (you can hear them on the airshots in 1939-40 from Chicago’s Panther Room at the Hotel Sherman . . . grown men of this artistic stature playing SIERRA SUE, but what can I say?)  Serious business indeed.  (In his later comment, Mike Burgevin points out that I left out Max Kaminsky.  How did I do this?)  *Don Peterson confirmed that the drummer is indeed Stan King — one of jazz’s entirely forgotten men. 

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This photo lets me imagine a time before I was born when James P. Johnson could wear his pin-stripe suit and play the piano, which is what he was meant to do.  It was taken in 1946, on a “Jazz on the River” cruise organized by Rudi Blesh and Art Hodes to go up and down the Hudson River.  From left, there’s the hand of an unidentified bassist, James P., Baby Dodds, Marty Marsala on trumpet (with the appropriate handkerchief) and guitarist Danny Barker — some of the same crew who turned up on the THIS IS JAZZ radio broadcasts.   But my secret pleasure in this photograph comes from the pretty woman whose head seems (although much smaller) in the same plane as James P.’s.  She is tidily dressed; her cardigan, pulled together at the collar, reveals a neat floral blouse beneath; we sense that she wears a neat wool skirt.  Her eyeglasses gleam in Peterson’s flashbulb; her hair is demure; her modest lipstick is in place.  Her hands are decorously in her lap.  Yet it’s clear — although she is prim, restrained, the last person to whoop and knock over her highball — that she is deeply pleased by what she hears.  As much as Bechet or James P., she is in the grip of the music, wanting it to go on forever. 

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Berenice Abbott told Hank O’Neal that most of photography was having the patience to wait for the right moment.  I’ll end this series with a superbly right moment — with only two musicians, Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett, playing at the “Friday Club” jam sessions held at the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan — this one on February 17, 1939.  Hackett here is much as I remember him, up close, in 1972: a small, slender man, neatly dressed, dark eyebrows, thin wrists with black hair on them.  Here he is all of 24, and so small that while standing he is only inches taller than Condon, sitting.  The expression on his face might be a smile or it might be that he is working hard to bring off a particular nuanced phrase.  But our attention is drawn to Condon, also young and healthy.  Condon called Hackett “The Impostor,” because — with his peculiarly ornate wit, he said “Nobody can be that good.”  The teasing compliment almost slips away, but you get the point.  What is more important in this picture — more than Condon’s neat attire — is his grin, his head turned in delight and pleasure and admiration towards Hackett, who is clearly playing something marvelous, inimitable, lovely.  Condon is astonished by what he’s hearing, but he’s expected no less from Bobby.  This photograph captures the joy (and the labor) of this music better than any prose. 

Thank you, Charles Peterson!

P.S.  It didn’t surprise me that Peterson’s offspring were particularly talented in music, film, and writing.  His daughter, Karen Yochim, a successful country-and-western songwriter, lives in Louisiana, has written extensively about Cajun culture for newspapers and magazines — and is branching out as a crime novelist.  Peterson’s granddaughter Schascle “Twinkle” Yochim (her name is Cajun, pronounced “Suh-Shell”) is a professional singer with several CDs, concentrating on soul, rock, and to a limited extent, country-and-western. She’s also a songwriter, with songs accepted in feature films currently in production.  

After a career in the Navy, Peterson’s son, Don, worked for the Navy Department in Washington, DC, doing motion picture & television scriptwriting.  Don also wrote scripts for many film and television productions.  He retired in 1986 and now concentrates on marketing his father’s photographic legacy, most lavishly accessible in the book SWING ERA NEW YORK.

HAPPINESS ON THE FLOOR

KEEPING IN THE SWING OF THINGS TOGETHER

SARAH MORAN, Special to the Star Tribune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by David Joles

Photo by David Joles

 

 

 

 

Dance partners Allen Hall, 77, and his wife, Rudy Hall, 64, have danced every other night this summer. “It’s a mild form of insanity,” Allen said.

Allen Hall, 77, and Rudy Hall, 64, swing dancers • South Haven, Minn.

Him: When I was a kid in St. Louis a long time ago, I always wanted to be a jitterbugger because the coolest guys could do the jitterbug. I was too shy to ask girls to dance and didn’t know how to do it anyway. But a long period of time transpired and I married Rudy, and she’s always been a dancer. She got me into dancing and into swing dancing, so it took a while but I finally had the little light pop over my head and I said to myself, “Maybe I’m going to be able to do this.”

Her: I started doing the Lindy Hop in 1953. My family [members] were musicians, and I tried my hand at playing instruments, but I couldn’t make myself stay with it because when I’d hear music I just wanted to dance. It took me years to get Allen to dance. He was too shy to dance when he was young, but after he retired he had more time. I was still going out dancing with friends and I’d come home every night soaking with sweat, talking about what a good time I had. Finally he said, well, maybe he should take a renewed interest. He took some lessons, and I taught him also.

Him: We get it where we can. We’re home about five months of the year in Minnesota, and I’m guessing we dance about two or three nights a week — sometimes more. We’re on the road in the motor home the remainder of the year, and last year we danced almost every other night.

Her: I was so in love with dancing and music, and of course I was driving to dance a couple nights a week without him, and there was just always something missing, but I couldn’t put my hand on it. Once he started dancing with me I just looked forward to it a lot more because I knew he was going with me. It was just a totally different feeling. It seemed like my dance was more complete.

Him: Every marriage is different, but I think successful marriages rely at least in part in having something in common, so we have this. This is a great part of our social life, our friends are mostly all younger people who also dance. There’s no intergenerational friction in dancing. They don’t care if you’re blue and have only one leg — if you can dance, you’re in.

Her: We both have something to look forward to together every week, and sometimes every night because we dance so much. It just keeps the relationship together.

Thanks to John Cooper for this inspiring tale!

JAZZ RELICS FOR SALE

By the time this post appears, the eBay auction will be over — but this is the first collection of jazz-related matchbooks and swizzle sticks I’ve ever seen, so I thought it was worth notice.  Someone went there; someone saved these things; someone had a wonderful time, I am sure.

REMMEBERING EDDIE CONDON'S (on eBay)

Eddie Condon’s, the midtown version, New York City, the early Sixties — endearing jazz archaeology.

“EVERYTHING IS JAZZ” in BRAZIL: 2009, 2010

This just in!  (The Beloved and I will be at Jazz at Chautauqua, but you certainly should go, if you can . . . )

“EIGHTH EDITION OF BRAZILIAN INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL PAYS HOMAGE TO ONE OF THE GREATEST JAZZ SINGERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY: BILLIE HOLIDAY

The tribute gathers Madeleine Peyroux, Mart´Nália and the Lady Day All Star Band on the same stage under Oded Lev-Ari’s arrangement.  All the musical diversity found in the streets and cultural spaces in the beginning of the 20th century in New Orleans, the jazz capital, is executed until today by the contemporary jazzists during their brilliant performances and improvisations. Such proof of that is the Tudo É Jazz Festival of Ouro Preto (a historical and popular city in Minas Gerais, Brazil), that’s been happening since 2002. This year, the audience present during the days 18, 19 and 20 of September will appreciate the refined music of jazz’s big names for free and outdoors. According to Maria Alice Martins, the event’s coordinator and idealizer, she always intended for the Festival to have a democratic character. “This won´t suddenly turn jazz into something popular, but it will allow the audience to have more access to great music”, affirms Maria Alice.

The Tudo É Jazz Festival reaches its eighth edition in 2009 with a homage to one of the greatest jazz singers the world has ever known: Billie Holiday, a black, poor woman that abruptly conquered all ears of great musicians from America and all around the world. The event will happen on a stage located in the traditional Largo do Rosário, in Ouro Preto. 11 presentations are programmed for the three days, with the participation of about 70 musicians.

With Maria Alice’s curatorial work, the Festival gathers revealing artists, such as the singer and guitarist Kate Schutt; some jazz old hands, like Bucky Pizzarelli – and his guitar –, and Ron Carter, who performs for the second time in the event; and even the talents from the prestigious music school of Marciac, in France.

The tribute to Billie Holiday will take place on Saturday, September 19th, with musical direction by Oded Lev-Ari and the participations of Madeleine Peyroux, the Brazilian singer Mart´Nália and the Lady Day All-Star Band, constituted by six important musicians of the international jazz scenery. On Sunday, September 20th, the last day of the Festival, the year of France in Brazil will be celebrated with the performance of a quartet of former students from the school of Marciac and the Paris Jazz Big Band, the biggest in France.

Down Beat Magazine – jazz ´n´ blues specialized publication – selected and requested 120 renowned jazz critics, among USA and around the world professionals, to vote for the best artists of the year. Three musicians that fit the category Rising Stars – which represents those in ascension – will perform to the audience of the Tudo É Jazz Festival, during its eighth edition through September 18 to 20, in Ouro Preto (Minas Gerais, Brazil), the talents that resulted on their nominations. They are: Anat Cohen (awarded in the categories “Artist of the Year” and “Clarinet”), Marcus Strickland (categories “Sax Tenor” and “Sax Soprano”) and Lionel Loueke (category “Guitar”).

The news that appeared in jazz on the last few years was the extraordinary spreading that has turned the gender into a kind of language that is easily interpreted all over the globe. A project was elaborated to create contact between the public and some valuable instrumental music, sharpening the audience’s critical sense and offering social-artistic-cultural growth. At the same time, offering the best technical qualities possible, to appraise the presentations; hiring sound, light and stage structure from the best companies all over South America, besides the best technicians to offer environment comfort to the audience. Since the 2009 edition, the presentations have become completely free charge for the public.

Nowadays the Tudo É Jazz Festival includes in its program Brazilian musicians that have more recognition outside their country than in. So, the Festival brought Raul de Souza in a concert with Claire Michel Group; Oscar Castro-Neves, that’s been living out of Brazil for over 40 years; the acclaimed pianist and singer Eliane Elias; Ivan Lins (that is unfairly not recognized as a good musician in Brazil, but appreciated abroad), that played along with Michel Legrand. Also, the Festival has developed, in the several groups interested in music from Ouro Preto and near cities, a closer contact with jazz, the music of the 21st century due to its originality, constant evolution, always influenced by history and by what’s happening right now, absorbing the feelings of the happenings and making music become an exceptional cultural and pedagogical instrument.

The Festival has made possible the creation of a Culture Point, the Alto da Cruz Culture Point, in an action that integrates the multiplicity of culture e shared management between the Senhor Bom Jesus das Flores Musical Society, the Ouro Preto City Hall and the ACL – Associação da Cultura Livre (Free Culture Association). This project has the purpose of being economically viable, socially fair, ecologically correct and inspired on the respect that the location owns; also, it’s turned to the teen and children’s population in a social high risk situation, due to drugs influence, alcohol and outcast environment, so that a project involving social inclusion through music can be developed.

In 2010, the Festival’s Tribute will be to Louis Armstrong, the world’s greatest name of jazz music. Coming to the Festival, projects of great musicians from all over the world to pay a homage to the artist that lightened the public’s attention to the musical gender: after Armstorng came up, jazz grew intensely and unexpectedly, becoming one of the most remarkable phenomenon in the cultural history.

Visit our website: www.noir.com.br

DOUBLE YOUR (JAZZ) PLEASURE

andersons

This just in — from our diligent and still-unpaid roving jazz correspondent Marianne Mangan — !

Who are these clean-cut young men holding saxophones?  They’re talented players, that’s who — identical twins Will Anderson and Peter Reardon Anderson, reed wizards whom I’ve heard and enj0yed on gigs with Jon-Erik Kellso and with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.  Their performance credits are far more elaborate than those groups, however, as you can read on their website: http://www.andersontwinsjazz.com/bio.html.  Peter plays tenor and clarinet; Will, alto and clarinet.  Now you can hear them, too, at that palace of jazz, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  Their group, the Anderson Twins Quintet, will be appearing there from Tuesday, September 1, to Saurday, September 5, with their performances beginning at 11 PM — music worth taking a midday nap for!

Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola is located within Jazz at Lincoln Center, at 60th Street and Broadway in New York City.  Phone: 212-258-9800.  The cover charge is $10-20 (presumably weekdays /weekends);  $5-10 for students with valid student ID.

AT LAST! A CANGELOSI CARDS CD!

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Thrilling news for those of us who have delighted in the band at live gigs, but always wanted something we could listen to at home, in the car, on the train . . . the possibilities are endless. 

I learned of it through Eve Polich’s posting on her AVALON site:

http://avalonjazz.blogspot.com/2009/08/cangelosi-records-for-sale.html,

which led me to: http://losmusicosviajeros.net/purchase.html

Even with my rudimentary Spanish, I can translate this as “something we have to have!”

PETER ECKLUND’S BLUE SUITCASE

Peter

Peter Ecklund presents an evening of jazz standards and originals, Wednesday, Sept 2nd.
BLUE SUITCASE
Peter Ecklund, trumpet & flugelhorn, maybe uke and whistling
Mike Weatherly, bass & vocals
Will Holshauser, accordion
Guest appearances!

Dancing is officially forbidden and unofficially tolerated. Return to your seat after each dance. 

Wednesday, Sept 2, 9-11
Greenwich Village Bistro
13 Carmine Street, between 6th & Bleecker
212 206 9777.  No cover, no minimum.  Suggested donation $5.

ON TREASURE ISLAND

No, my title isn’t a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson, or the 1935 pop song recorded by Louis and Wingy Manone.  It’s how I think of the back quadrant of the antiques-and-collectables shop called CAROUSEL on Warren Street in Hudson, New York.  In a previous post, I happily showed off the Jelly Roll Morton HMV 78 I had uncovered . . . but I hadn’t bothered to look down.  What I found was two boxes of 10″ and 12″ 78s and a few 10″ lps — many of them suggesting that their previous owner had far-ranging and excellent jazz taste.  Here are my latest acquisitions, arranged in rough chronological order for the purists out there . . .

Let’s begin with some classic acoustic blues: two Columbias by a famous pair:

78s from Carousel 001

78s from Carousel 002

78s from Carousel 003

78s from Carousel 004

78s from Carousel 005

This one was fairly dull, but I didn’t expect roaring improvisation.

78s from Carousel 006

Well, we live in hope. SUSAN has some faux-hot playing in its final chorus, where potential buyers might not be scared away, but nothing memorable.

78s from Carousel 007

I recall this tune from Mildred Bailey’s little-girl version, but don’t know the vocalist.

78s from Carousel 008

This 78 is cracked, but this side’s a real prize.  With the song taken at a slower tempo than usual, there’s a good deal of growling from Bubber Miley in the last minute of the record, out in the open and as part of the ensemble.  A find!

78s from Carousel 009

What first caught my eye was the lovely UK label . . . then when I saw this and the next ones were mint Bings from 1933, I couldn’t resist.  And Eddie Lang is added to the Royal Canadians.  Legend has it that the British pressings are quiet and well-behaved.  Is this true?

78s from Carousel 010

Not a memorable song, but I can hear Bing becoming pastoral as I type these words.

78s from Carousel 011

78s from Carousel 012

And my favorite of the four sides — a jaunty naughty song about love-addiction, and perhaps other things, too.  I always knew that “I must have you every day / As regularly as coffee or tea,” didn’t entirely refer to Twining’s Earl Grey.

78s from Carousel 013

Now you’re talking my language!  We jump forward into the Forties (I left aside a number of familiar Commodores and Keynotes, because of the economy) — with a record I’d only heard on an Onyx lp compilation.  Here’s the original 12″ vinyl pressing, with “Theodocius,” as Mildred called him on a 1935 record, who was under contract to Musicraft at the time.  A wonderful quintet!

78s from Carousel 014

And a tune that only one other jazz group (Benny Morton-Red Allen, 1933) ever recorded.

78s from Carousel 015

For whatever reason, 10″ jazz lps are even more scarce than 78s, so this one was a real surprise — even without its cover.

78s from Carousel 016

Just as good!

78s from Carousel 017

The other side of the ideological divide, but equally thrilling.

78s from Carousel 018

Did Mingus overdub his bass lines on this issue, I wonder?

78s from Carousel 019

Take it on faith that side 2 is exactly the same except for the altered digit.  Now, to conclude — a pair of oddities!

78s from Carousel 021

I can see myself listening to this two-sided piece of history once, if that — but the near-mint record and the original sleeve made it an essential purchase.  I’ll also send this photo to my friend, poet Amy King, who isn’t abdicating her throne any time soon.

78s from Carousel 022

Finally, a real gamble and entirely irresistible for that reason.  The logical half of the brain says that what looks like “Hawk” will turn out to be “Hank,” singing about his girl Nona, accompanying himself on the musical saw.  The hopeful side of the brain says “Coleman Hawkins, of course . . . ”  Stay tuned!  My next purchase, obviously, has to be a three-speed turntable.

And two antique-store stories, both cheering.  In Carousel, the gentleman behind the counter saw me come puffing up with my armload of precious 78s.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think the store does a brisk business in 78s, so he was happy to see me.  “I have twelve,” I said, with that hopeful expectant canine look on my face that says, silently, “Can you give me a break on the price, especially if I don’t haggle with you?”  His intuition was splendid.  He grinned at me and said, “Looks like ten to me.”  I was pleasantly flustered and said, conspiratorially, “You knew I was hoping for some sort of discount, didn’t you?” and his smile got bigger.  “No,” he said, “I just count better than you do.”  Very sweet indeed!

And a few days before this, the Beloved and I had spent some time in a store in an odd location — where, I don’t exactly remember.  Its owner was even more amiable, even when we couldn’t find a thing to buy in his place, including gardening books and a small stash of vinyl records.  But we had an exceedingly amusing and thoughtful conversation with him about the changing nature of the area, and how it affected local businesses.  We exchanged friendly good wishes at the end, and went outside to get in the car.  A few beats later, we saw him emerge from the store.  “Did I tell you my clown joke?” he said, and we said no, he hadn’t — hoping for the best but expecting something positively weird or terrifying.  (One never knows, do one?)  “Two cannibals are eating a clown, and one of them looks at the other and says, suspiciously, ‘Does this taste  funny to you?”  It caught me by surprise and, after a moment for cogitation, we were laughing loudly.  Now you can tell it to someone else.

TWEETS? NO, THANKS.

Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association and creator of the “Jazz Beyond Jazz” blog, wants to make sure that the recent media flurry announcing the death of jazz doesn’t get accepted as truth.  A good thing. 

Here’s his latest idea:

“A grass roots group of jazz journalists and broadcasters, websites, bloggers, and presenters have launched a #jazzlives campaign on Twitter, using the social networking platform to demonstrate that recent reports of jazz’s demise are, in the words of Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated.  According to data from a 2008 survey of audience participation in the arts released by the National Endowment for the Arts and featured in recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, fewer people are hearing jazz live, and fewer of them are young, that at any time since World War II. Yet on the basis of “anecdotal evidence” and observation at jazz events, the survey may have overlooked significant segments of the jazz-enjoying populace.  So an informal circle of jazz activists is trying this experiment to generate new numbers: Get people at live jazz events in the next weeks — including but not only the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (NYC, Aug. 29 -30) and Labor Day weekend fests in Tanglewood, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Aspen, Vail, Philadelphia, Chapel Hill, etc. — to add #jazzlives to tweets about who has been heard, and where.  So far principals of AllAboutJazz.com, JazzCorner.com, Jazz Promo Services, the Jazz Journalists Association, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, the Angels City Jazz Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Detroit International Jazz Festival and WBGO have signed on to promote the #jazzlives campaign. So have bloggers Larry Blumenfeld, Nate Chinen, the Jazz Police, Willard Jenkins, James Hale, Don Heckman, Peter Hum, Howard Mandel, Plastic Sax, Doug Ramsey, Hank Shteamer and A Blog Supreme (NPR), among others.  Including the “hashtag” #jazzlives will allow tweets to be searched and collated on Twitter, TweetDecks and other digital devices. A campaign widget which can be embedded in blogs and websites will exhibit the tweets as they roll out in real time.  For the widget or more information on this campaign, write tweetjazzlives@gmail.com. For this campaign, “jazz” is defined loosely — as each listener who tweets chooses to define it. To participate, tweet about who you hear perform and where the performance was, adding the hashtag #jazzlives and whatever else fits in Twitters 140 character limit. Tell jazz-listening friends to do likewise to prove jazz lives.”

 — Howard Mandel jazzmandel@earthlink.net www.HowardMandel.com www.ArtsJournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz

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Although I am publicizing this campaign, you’ll notice that this blog isn’t included in the list above.  That’s my choice.  When Howard asked me to join this campaign, I told him hat I didn’t believe in Twitter.  I’m not in favor of compressing any variety of expressiveness into 140 characters.  That’s too small for sound-bites.  It’s more like intellectual plankton, too little to survive on.  

I also find it oddly coincidental that this campaign has the same name as my blog.  Of course, JAZZ LIVES is a phrase too common to be copyrighted, and many writers had used it before me. 

I hope the loosely defined jazz-loving masses, tweeting under my window, don’t wake me up in the middle of the night. 

tweet

LESTER YOUNG’S GRIEF

presToday would have been Lester Young’s one-hundredth birthday. 

His centenarybecame a media event weeks ago.  Smithsonian Magazine and the Wall Street Journal carried articles celebrating Lester’s life and art; Ted Gioia has written what looks like a fine book proposing that everything that was once outsider cutlure, “hip,” “cool,” the property of only a few trend-setters, originated with Pres.  Online, there are sites devoted to the occasion (I could send someone a Pres e-card this morning, or I could subscribe to a jazz video site that promises me a new one emailed every day). 

All these celebrations seem good omens that our culture, typically ignorant or dismissive of jazz, is paying attention to a heroic figure. 

Would the attention have pleased Lester?  I hope so.  I have in my mind’s eye the account of a birthday party given in his honor at Birdland in the Fifties, where Lester cut the obligatory first piece of cake for the photographers while holding his horn in the other hand, playing I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, both witty and apt.

And I was cheered by the blogpost written by Fernando Ortiz de Urbina, where he states the heretical but resounding truth that Lester’s influence outweigh’s Charlie Parker’s.  You should read it here: http://jazzofftherecord.blogspot.com/2009/08/lester-young.html — his blog, not incidentally, is named EASY DOES IT, in Lester’s honor.  And as I write this, WKCR-FM is playing Lester’s music — for free — and it can be accessed online at http://www.wkcr.org

But I wonder how much posthumous affection and attention we would have to give Lester to make up for the hurts he suffered.  His feelings, once wounded, stayed that way.  His father threw him out of the family band because he couldn’t read music (although he played his part magnificently by ear); later, his section-mates in the 1934 Fletcher Henderson band mocked him because he didn’t sound like their idol Coleman Hawkins, and insisted that Fletcher get another tenor player; John Hammond discouraged Count Basie from raising Lester’s salary although Lester was that band’s star; he could not make a success of his own small band; the United States Army did its best to destroy him; a legion of “grey boys” played his phrases back to him in clubs and concerts for more money; he ended his days in New York, sitting by his window, playing mournful Frank Sinatra records, drinking cognac. 

pres2It is no accident that some of his most unforgettable solos — BLUES IN THE DARK, I LEFT MY BABY, FINE AND MELLOW — sound like a heartbroken man trying to hold back tears.  Can love that comes too late make up for its absence?  I don’t think so.

NOW, WE’RE GETTING WARM!

I hope readers have not wearied of my chronicles of jazz-shopping . . . but another chapter took me and the Beloved to Troy, New York, for a multi-dealer antique store on River Street.  I spent a long time poring through albums of dull late-Forties 78s (who knew that there was such enthusiasm for the Harmonicats?) with little enthusiasm until I came to the last album, most of its pages empty, which clearly dated from another time.  First:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 002

 More interesting than Tony Martin, but nothing to make the pulse race.  I couldn’t be sure, but I thought it was an early (acoustic) Brunswick.  However, I dimly remembered that the elusive Jack Purvis had made his first recordings with Arnold Johnson, circa 1928 (see the wonderfully-documented Jazz Oracle issue), so I turned the record over:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 003

 Since I always associate CHINA BOY with hot music, I bought the record (without depriving us of groceries for even a moment).  Later on, I saw online that it was circa 1923, so I have no hopes of Purvis.  Has anyone heard this, and is it an iota more than a dance-band curio?  But that was only the jazz hors d’oeuvre as it were.  In the rear of the store I saw a metal stand with horizontal slots meant for Ludwig drum accessories.  The stand was empty, fairly characterless and, at $225, not essential.  Below the empty shelves were music instruction books — piano, show tunes, accordion, and the last one, face down:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 004

 That looked promising, but I held myself back — too many “Dixieland” records and music books have a very tenuous relationship to the real thing.  I turned it over:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 005

 and opened it up . . . . to see a long written introduction and analysis of the style, as well as this glorious picture:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 006

My thanks go out to the no doubt defunct W.F.L. drum company, to the noble shade of Ray Bauduc, and to the anonymous person who in 1937 gave up a hard-earned dollar to buy this book in hopes of sounding just like Mister Bauduc on those wonderful Bobcats Deccas.  Oh, how I hope he or she realized that objective!  This post, of course, is for Kevin Dorn, Mike Burgevin, Hal Smith, Arnie Kinsella, Jeff Hamilton, and the other players who keep the faith, who know what it is to beat out the time on the wooden rim of the snare drum.  I’ll be holding viewings in September . . . say the word.

A LITTLE JIMMY RUSHING

“Little” Jimmy Rushing was larger — both musically and physically — than the nickname, most memorably so.  But I found a little Jimmy Rushing in a five-and-ten-cent store, well, a bookstore . . . for $3.24. 

Freedomland USA

I had never seen this long-playing record (Columbia, momo, circa 1960) nor did I know about it.  FREEDOMLAND, USA, seems to have been a musical production put on at the New York amusement park that was in operation 1960-1.  (Do I sense the presence of the Cold War here?)

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by George David Weiss (whose name I associate with some pop songs given to Louis Armstrong late in life to record).  Other participants include Johnny Horton, Earl Wrightson, and the orchestra of Frank DeVol.  Jimmy has one song, SO LONG MA (Headin’ For New Orleans). 

Hearing him sing this song will have to wait until I am reunited with my turntable . . . but I couldn’t let Jimmy go unnoticed any longer in that otherwise unremarkable bookstore.  I am not anticipating a dazzling jazz performance, but spending a dollar a minute to hear Jimmy Rushing sing something I’ve never heard before seems like a good deal.

WHITLEY BAY 2009: THE CLOSING SET

At the end of the three-day memorable immersion that was the July 2009 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, I was overwhelmed — awash in the contradictory feelings I always have when nearing the end of a jazz party.  I am terriibly sad, because I don’t want the music ever to end, but at the same time I have had just about enough of the rich sensations offered in set after set.  I’m full — as anyone would be after a lavish multi-course meal.  But I know Monday is coming . . .  

So when Bob Cox came and found me sometime on Sunday evening and said, “Where have you been?  You’ve got to come and hear the Swiss Yerba Buena Creole Rice Jazz Band,” I was mildly reluctant, being in full-mode.  I confess I was unfamiliar with their work; it may even be that the sheer length of their name intimidated me. 

Rene Hagmann is playing with them,” Bob said, which was  more than enough reason for me go hear their set.  

I was delighted then — and I am delighted now to be able to share these video clips here.  I don’t know the precise personnel of the band, but the Clerc family is its backbone — father Beat and son Fabien on trumpets, and son Olivier on drums and washboard.  Besides Hagmann and Jean-Francois Bonnel guest stars on reeds, there is also Leonard Muller.  I confess I don’t know the name of the wonderful trombonist (and occasional scat-singer); the pianist is Jean-Pierre Burkhard; the banjoist is Nidi Niederhauser; Jean-Daniel Gisclon plays the tuba.  On their latest CD, Regis Dessimoz is also on trumpet.

Much of the SYBCRJB’s repertoire is drawn from venerable jazz recordings, and the thrill is in hearing a real band play these charts live, with solos that dart in and out of the ones we know by heart.      

To start, here is something for the Bixians — a Goldkette romp on I’M GOING TO MEET MY SWEETIE NOW, with reed virtuoso Bonnel playing trumpet:

Then the band honors I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE, with Bonnel taking an impassioned early-Thirties Hawkins solo instead of the vocal:

What more could I say about DO SOMETHING except to point out that the band certainly lives up to the imperative:

Finally, two maniacally ecstatic performances featuring the tireless Olivier Clerc on washboard.  The first is GOIN’ NUTS, taken from a 1929 record session by an Ellington small group, the Six Jolly Jesters.  Once again I apologize to the trombonist — not only didn’t I know his name, but I couldn’t tear my camera lens away from Olivier to record his memorably uninhibited scatting.  So sorry, Sir, wherever you may be at the moment.  And don’t miss Rene Hagmann on kazoo or air-trombone:

And more!  that ancient pop tune, PADDLIN’ MADELINE (or MADELIN’?)  HOME (with its suggestion that she is in no hurry to have the hedonism come to an end so that she can go back to sedate life, Mother and Father, and dry land):

When this set ended, I, too, was on my feet, applauding.  I went over to the piano to buy the SYBCRJB’s latest CD and to pay homage to young Olivier.  I praised his incredible stamina and said — as innocently as I could — that I hoped his lady love was equally appreciative of it.  It took a moment for that to translate, but my naughtiness made him laugh, which was what I had hoped for.

Down the hall, a jam session in the bar lasted until I went to my room at 2 AM– bravely facing the inevitable, that Monday would come soon enough.  Which it did.  But here’s what I took away with me.

Goodbye, Whitley Bay!  See you next year . . . .  

TheSYBCRJB’s website, not incidentally, is http://www.swissyerba.com.  And they have other videos on YouTube — several recorded by the nimble Elin Smith.

THAT REEFER MAN

My long-time friend Rob Rothberg told me about this — by way of an AOL story that Barbra Streisand’s ex-lover — as far back as 1959 — was auctioning off her earliest private tapes.  I can see my readers politely stifling yawns, even when I point out that anyone wishing to bid on these admittedly rare items would be required to put $100,000 in escrow.

But Rob doesn’t give up easily, nor is he easily bored.  He followed the link to see what else the auctioneer had to offer — and it’s a rare batch of letters from Fredric Douglass, Sigmund Freud, Grover Cleveland, and a colored trumpet player and singer named Louis, making travel plans that involve his buddy Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow and some “arrangements.”  The handwritten letter runs sixteen pages:

Birmingham, England, September 18, 1932. “Well Papa ‘Mezz’, Here I am in Dear Ole Birmingham, but not Birmingham Alabama, Ha Ha. How’s everything Pal? I was awful sorry to hear of your being sick, I hope you are well by now. Alpha and I are well as usual. She + Mr. + Mrs. Collins sends best regards to you and the family. We’re playing here this week at the Empire Theatre. I shared the star honors last with the beautiful movie star Miss Esther Ralston. She has a lovely act. She also stayed at the same hotel with us in Liverpool. The name of the hotel was the Adelphi Hotel. My English boys are still swingin’ like nobody’s bizzness. Yeah, man. They’re all lovely chaps (BOYS). We have about four more weeks tour through the provinces (BIG TOWNS) of England and then we’ll disband the orchestra in England. Then we’ll go over to Paris which we’ll only stay about two weeks. Then back home to Death Ole America. Mr. Collins was telling me last night in my room that when we leave Paris to return home we’ll go the round about way which will take a little longer to get home but will give us a chance to see a great big part of the world. You see we’ll go by way of Japan, Honolulu and oh lots of places I’ve longed to see. Now won’t that be wonderful if he goes through with it? So Mezz, I’d like very much for you to co-operate with me on this proposition. Then we’ll take it over when I arrive. Understand? I’d like for you to start right in and pack me enough orchestrations to last me the whole trip. Will ya? Now you must look into this matter and give it your best attention, hear Gate? If you ever done anything at all for your Boy, do it now, then our troubles are over. You know what I’ve often told you about the future? Well Gate, the future is here. And Papa Collins is the Victor. And Boy, believe me success is just ahead now. That sounds good to your ears, eh? You know, Gate, I’ve often told you that my success is your success. Just wait, we’ll give the whole world something to think about. Here’s some more good news for ya …. The Victor Record Co., has just won the case from the Okeh Record Co. and wired Mr. Collins that all’s well and I can start on my new Victor contract which replaces the Rudy Vallee anytime. Gee, Gate, what a victory that is to win from our boy Rockwell. Looka heah, Looka heah. Now just watch those good royalties – dividends – shares – ‘n’ everything else. Ha. Ha. And the contract pop’s (MR. COLLINS) made with these people for me, why you’ve never heard of one like it before. And that includes the ole King of Jazz himself Paul Whiteman. Nice, eh? Oh boy, I have lots of good sparkling news for you. I think of them in spots. So all you have to do is pay strict attention to things that I tell you because I am your Boy and you must stick to me regardless of how the tides running, hear? And you must really see that I receive those orchestrations. And you’d start right now Gate and see to your Boy being well fixed because I wouldn’t want to run short because it might bring me down. No might isn’t…. It would. Ha. Ha. Now here’s the line on the trip. Papa Collins said that the trip would take about 12 weeks, which is three months. Now figure that out Gate. But be sure and figure right. Send it to the American Express Company, Paris, France. If you mail it now, it’ll about get there the same time as me. No doubt you’ve received the money I wired you, eh? There’ll be lots of nice things happening when I get back. The Paramount people are trying their best to get Papa Collins to take charge of all the bookings of all the Paramount Theatres. Now you can guess what that’ll mean to me if he decides. Oh, Gate, we have millions of opportunities. I just like to let you know what’s going on because I know you appreciates. How’s all the cats around the ole Berg? Have you seen Batie or Buck? Zuttie or any of the ole Bunch? I received a wonderful letter from Batie. Oh yes, by the way, Gate. I appreciate the write up you sent me. Mr. Collins asked me for it so I let him have it for some publicity or etc. He’ll return it and I’ll put it in my scrap book. I know Ole Alpha’s gonna enjoy herself on that round the world tour. Mezz, I sho wishes you was taking this trip with me, but it’s impossible…. first place it all happened too sudden to amount to anything;. So I figured since I am taking this trip, I’ll observe all the spots that’s of interest and maybe some day after I get my bank roll together we can take a trip like this on our own. Understand? We’re expecting to make another tour down south when we return (THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY LIES). I can’t say how Pop’s (MR. COLLINS) gonna do, but in case you should see fit to join me for a while you’ll be more than welcome. I’m sure you’ll enjoy a trip like that for a change (IT WILL DO YOU GOOD). Then I think after the trip down south we’ll step into the Big Apple. Oh, I’ll tell you more about that later. Lot’s of time yet. What we want to keep in mind now is the orchestrations (MUTA) in Paris. We’re expectin to pick up the same jigg band (COLORED ORCHESTRA) that played the London Palladium with me when we go to Paris. Gee won’t we be glad to see each other, yeah man. They’ve just written ‘n’ told me they’re waiting with Bells On. Tell Mrs. Mezz I received the wire – and don’t you forget your Abilene Water. Good night Gate. Don’t forget Paris, hear? From your Boy Louis Armstrong c/o American Express Co. Paris France – Savy?”

The auctioneer wants fifteen thousand dollars for that, and it is (to quote David Ostwald) worth every penny.  Not only because it’s Louis and Mezz, but because of the invaluable advice for travellers.  Savy? 

Visit http://momentsintime.com/autographs.htm to learn more and to bid!

DIAL B FOR BEAUTY

I think Tadd Dameron would have approved, had he seen this butterfly outside his window.Quinoa  butterfly  Fud 003

IMAGINE THIS!

This was one prize — of several — acquired yesterday at the Coxsackie Antique Center, a multi-dealer showplace near Albany, New York, with a hundred dealers.  Walking up and down the aisles, although the large store was clean and well-lit, which isn’t always the case, I began to be grateful that there were so many things I had no desire whatsoever to collect. 

But this piece of sheet music — new to me! — suggests that hipness didn’t restrict itself to major urban centers in 1927 or after — or perhaps someone brought this from New York City to play on the piano at the summer house?  My photographs of the score might be too small to play from, but perhaps my readers can solve this for themselves. 

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IMAGINATION is an unusually modern piece for 1927, harmonically sophisticated — but unless you can sight-read, you might not know what it sounds like. 

Voila!  The Bix Beiderbecke Discussion Group (http://www,bixbeiderbecke.com.) once again came to the rescue.  There I found a good deal of information about Fud Livingston — composer, arranger, reedman — as well as audio versions of IMAGINATION by bands including Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Vic Berton, and other Twenties hot stars.  (I hope that Professor Al Haim agrees that my petty larceny was done for a good purpose.)   

IMAGINATION by Miff Mole and his Molers, August 30, 1927

IMAGINATION by the Charleston Chasers, Sept. 8, 1927

IMAGINATION by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, June 1, 1928

Note: these files occasionally take some time to load; sometimes they stall; they require Real Player.  But they do reward the patient and diligent. 

To repay the Bixophiles for my borrowing these recordings from their site, here’s another piece of sheet music, also new to me, with distinct ties to Bix and Tram.  More to come! 

Quinoa  butterfly  Fud 010

MY MOTHER AND THE COTTON CLUB

Sometime before 1928, my mother, a curly-headed child, is leaning out of a window, fascinated by the passers-by on — let us say — 135th Street in Harlem. In that same year, in a different part of the city, my father, dressed in a suit and a shirt with a painfully high collar, but having trouble hiding a smile, sits in the photographer’s studio, his mandolin on his lap. 

My mother’s image exists only in my imagination; I can pick up the framed photograph and stare at it.  These are my parents as the children I never knew, well before I was even an idea.  But music ties these memories together, and ties them to my life.   

At this late date, with my adolescence forty years gone, I think of how many hours I spent in my upstairs room in the suburban house my mother kept tidy, my father maintained.  I was constantly playing jazz records, surely too loudly.  The archaic but thrilling music of the 1920s and 1930s.  Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Eddie Condon, Bessie Smith. 

My mother died in 2000, my father in 1982.  What do I recall of their stories of their own childhoods? 

She told me about wanting a dog as a child and her grandfather bringing her “a white ball of fur” when she was sick in bed with scarlet fever, a dog that grew up to be a beloved chow. 

My father told me of his (entirely unaggressive) gang of Brooklyn boys – all with nicknames.  I remember only that one was Doc, another pair Itch and Scratch.  And their joke — perhaps beloved in his generation, his neighborhood? — to go under the window of your apartment and holler up to your mother, “Ma!  Throw me down a roll and a glass of water!” 

In my childhood, years later, while my father was working around the house, he sang the pop hits of his adolescence — in snippets, so that I didn’t know that they were real songs until I heard Bing Crosby and others sing them, twenty years later: “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “A Faded Summer Love,” “I Faw Down and Go Boom,” and more. 

cotton-club1

Some years after my mother died, my sister said, casually, “Did Mom ever tell you about the Cotton Club?”  I know I said, What?” and stared at her.  “Mom said that when she was a little girl — they lived in Harlem, you know — she would look out the window or sit out on the front stoop and watched the beautifully-dressed black people — so beautifully dressed with fine hats and gloves — on their way to the Cotton Club.”  I imagine one of them might have looked like the beautiful woman in this James Van Der Zee photograph.

vanderzee pretty girl

It pains me now that I did not know this, and that my mother (even with those Harlem rhythms of my records, years later, pounding above her head in her suburban kitchen) never thought to tell me.  I could have said, “Mom, what did those people look like?”  “Did you ever walk by the Cotton Club in the daytime?  The Savoy Ballroom?  The Renaissance?” and on and on.  I console myself that what is now critically interesting to me might not have occupied a great deal of space in her memory.  I didn’t think to ask my father, “When did your family get a radio, and what programs do you remember listening to?  Did you ever see any swing bands live?”   

Of course, my mother’s story is a myth, easily punctured and brought down to earth by facts.  I gather that the audiences at the Cotton Club were white.  And did the entertainment start so early that she was able to sit on the steps, perhaps on a hot summer night long after little girls were supposed to be asleep, watching the people?  Was she up early in the morning watching them come home?  Did she see musicians and dancers on their way to other clubs?  Could she have unwittingly seen someone whose music I now revere?  What details was she unwittingly misremembering?  But none of those details truly matter.  The fuzziness, the half-wrongness of the story is essential to its charm, its enchantment. 

That story is one of only a few windows I have into the life of my parents before I was born, before I saw them as My Parents, In Charge Of Everything.  I recall with cinematic force those rare moments when they gleefully revealed something of their youthful romantic selves.  Once, because of a record I was playing, they broke out of Being Parents to show me, in the living room with its gray rug, how they danced the Shag in the mid-forties.  That bit of unexpected choreography lasted no more than twenty seconds, but it is indelible today. 

There’s no moral to this tale, no implicit suggestion to readers, whether they are parents or children.  Many of the questions that we want to ask we can no longer ask, and the dead take their past lives and their untold stories with them.  But the glimpses they give of what it was like Before The World Was Made are tantalizing, lovely, elusive.

JON-ERIK, GRANT, CHRIS, et al: Sunday, August 23, 2009

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Jon-Erik Kellso, Hot Man Supreme, will be leading a remarkable quartet at The Ear Inn this coming Sunday, August 23, 2009.  I have been north of The Ear for the past two months and am pained and envious that long-standing plans will prevent me from journeying down there.  But that’s no reason that you should stay at home.

Jon-Erik’s partner in the front line will be tenorist Grant Stewart — passionate and surprising (like Jon-Erik).  Grant’s recent CDs, YOUNG AT HEART and PLAYS ELLINGTON AND STRAYHORN, have been splendid.  They will be joined by guitarist Chris Flory, who has deep rocking time and is a born jazz internal combustion engine.  And a stellar bassist, not yet determined at press time.  And a cast of musicians and singers — only the best — who come to the Sunday sessions at The Ear to admire, to applaud, to learn.     

It’s not too late to make sure you get home from the beach with plenty of time.  I think that jazz magic will be in The Ear.

CHARLES PETERSON, JAZZ VISIONARY

Jazz owes a great deal to people who never take a chorus: Milt Gabler and Lucille Armstrong, Norman Granz and Helen Oakley Dance.  And Charles Peterson. 

Long before I knew anything about Charles Peterson, I admired the photography and artistic sensibility.  Because photographs get reprinted without attribution, I had seen much of his work without knowing it was his.  That is, until the fine book SWING ERA NEW YORK: THE JAZZ PHOTOGRAPHS OF CHARLES PETERSON (Temple University Press, 1994) appeared, with priceless shots by Peterson and commentary by W. Royal Stokes.  (The book is now officially out of print, but copies are available from the usual online sources.)  

Between 1935 and 1951, his camera and flashbulbs ready, Peterson went to jazz clubs, parties, concerts, and recording sessions.  That in itself would be enough, but he also approached his subjects in subtle, ingenious ways.  He avoided the formulaic full-frontal studio portraits or the equally hackneyed poses that jazz musicians are forced into.  He saw what other photographers didn’t. 

Granted, he had wonderful visual material to work with.  Many jazz musicians are unconsciously expressive, even dramatic, when they play, sing, or listen; many of them have eloquently unusual faces.

But who was Charles Peterson?

His son, Don, who takes such good care of his father’s invaluable prints and negatives, told me about his father’s fascinating life.  And, not incidentally, the photographs that follow are reproduced with Don’s permission. 

Charles Peterson wasn’t born with a camera in his hand, just off Fifty-Second Street.  Rather, he was born to Swedish wheat farmers in Minnesota on January 3, 1900.  On a trip to New Orleans while he was still in high school, he bought himself a banjo in a pawnshop.  Musically self-taught, he spent his college years playing local dance halls and summer resort hotels.  By 1926, he was such an accomplished jazz player on guitar and banjo that he was part of a band with a residency at the Dacotah Hotel in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  The band was so good that its stars were raided for big bands as far away as Chicago — bands whose leaders were alumni of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. 

The Dacotah Hotel, before 1923

The Dacotah Hotel, before 1923

Peterson had what they called “pluck” in those days, and drove his Mercer Raceabout to New York City to interview for job in publishing.  But once there he followed his love of music, and he met Pee Wee Russell and many of Russell’s Chicago colleagues and friends — including one Eddie Condon.  He and Pee Wee shared a room and Peterson worked with first-string hot jazz players including Wingy Manone.  But hot jazz didn’t pay well, and Peterson found steady employment with Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees, a successful but much more staid group.  Married and with a son, Peterson looked for a steady job instead of one-nighters on the road.  With the money he had saved from Vallee, where he had been earning $300 a week in the Depression, Peterson took a year off to study photography at the Clarence White School — on the recommendation of Edward Steichen (Peterson had met Steichen when Steichen was photographing the Connecticut Yankees for Vanity Fair. 

Peterson’s knowledge of the music business and his friendship with musicians were invaluable, and he was at the right place and moment in history — not simply because he took rooms above the Onyx Club.  He began with portraits and publicity shots, then moved to capturing jazz players and singers in action — Jack Teagarden, Bunny Berigan, Billie Holiday, Sidney Bechet, and dozens of others in big bands and small, jam sessions and apartment get-togethers.  His photographs were prominently featured in multi-page spreads in LIFE and other glossy magazinesDon remembers that while he was a fifth-grader at the progressive Walt Whitman School, his father assembled a jazz band to play for the students and their families in an informal concert that began at 1 PM and went on into the evening.  The participants?  Only Louis Armstrong, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, and Zutty Singleton — all Peterson’s friends. 

During the Second World War, Peterson’s jazz photography came to a halt, and after the war, although he photographed Ella Fitzgerald and Terry Gibbs, Buck Clayton, Joe Bushkin, the Red Norvo Trio, and his friends at Eddie Condon’s club, his career gradually came to a close in 1951.  Peterson wasn’t fond of modern jazz and had moved, with his wife, to a small farm in Pennsylvania.  He had many interests outside music and photography, and devoted himself to them — from farming to literature to metalwork and boats — until his death in 1976.   

Here are photographs by Charles Peterson that have not been published anywhere else — the first of several installments.

The first one isn’t a classic photo, but we need to the man himself — in the best company.  Peterson sometimes liked to include himself in the shot, so he would set up his camera, arrange the photograph, and ask a competent anonymous amateur to press the button.  He did just that on December 29, 1940, capturing himself and Pee Wee Russell at a private party in what I assume is a New York City apartment.  It is a candid snapshot: I imagine Peterson saying to someone, “Hey, take a picture of Pee Wee and myself,” and the person holding the camera has waited a beat too long.  Pee Wee’s amused expression is beginning to freeze; surely he would rather have lit the cigarette in his hand.  Peterson himself is caught in the middle of saying something perhaps under his breath, which I imagine as “Press the button already.”  A professional photographer wouldn’t have made this a trio of Peterson, Rinso, and Russell, either.  But we see Peterson in his natural surroundings, someone who could have been taken for a handsome, sharply-dressed character actor in a current film.  

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The next photograph moves both Peterson and readers away from boxes of crackers and detergent to a much more emotionallycharged space: the recording studio used by the newly-hatched Blue Note record label for the Port of Harlem Seven session on June 8, 1939.  Peterson was fortunate enough to be invited to a number of recording sessions — his friends were playing and everyone hoped that a Peterson photograph might be published in a major magazine.  (One of his most famous photographs is of drummer Zuty Singleton at a 1938 session for the Hot Record Society, featuring Pee Wee, Dicky Wells, and Freddie Green!) 

Peterson captured the whole Port of Harlem Seven — including Frank Newton, J.C. Higginbotham, Meade Lux Lewis, Johnny Williams, Teddy Bunn — in action, but he chose in this shot to concentrate on Sidney Bechet, who would eventually give up the clarinet for the soprano saxophone, and Sidney Catlett.   

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 In this photograph, it is June, and although musicians typically kept their suits and hats on while recording, Catlett has come prepared to exert himself, dressed for hot work in an open-necked short-sleeve shirt that seems more country than town, with suspenders that pull his suit trousers up beyond what we might think of as comfortable.  If there was any doubt as to why he was called “Big Sid,” this photo should act as silent testimony to breadth as well as height: his shoulders, the solidity of his upper arms, even though the fingers of his right hand are holding the drumstick gracefully and delicately, the suggestions of Native American bone structure in his face. 

Catlett’s mouth is part-open, and unlike the first photograph, where it seems that Peterson is inadvertently caught speaking, here Catlett is clearly exhorting, cheering Bechet on.  “Yeaaaaaahhh,” he says, quietly intent.  Bechet’s eyes are half-closed; his necktie seems a montage of mock-neon letters; he holds the clarinet at a distinct angle.  His arm, or perhaps the clarinet, casts a dark shadow across the canvas that is his white dress shirt.  (The angle itself is suggestive: Bechet said that he gave up the clarinet because the vibrations hurt his dental work.  Does this picture capture him in pain, working hard to play that most difficult of single-reed instruments?) 

What Peterson understood, even in the restrictive confines of the recording studio, where the photographer has no control over what his subjects are doing — this is obviously the very opposite of a “posed” shot — was the possibilities of shadow and light.  Figuring out what the camera and the flashbulb would make bright, half-bright, dim, or black, determined much more about the total effect of the shot. 

Look closely at Catlett’s three cymbals — from the left, a Chinese cymbal, then in right foreground a ride cymbal, and apparently submerged beneath it, the top of his hi-hat: three pieces of  round metal, all except the Chinese tapering down from a center cap to their edge.  Without noticing it at first, the viewer takes in the different visual textures of the three: the Chinese cymbal, its surface not flat but rather a series of small convexities, appearing dark and light, “like gold to airy thinness beat”; the top of the ride bymbal, although not grooved, reflecting light much like the grooves of a 78 rpm record; the hi-hat, darkly hidden beneath it.  The viewer senses the shadowing of Catlett’s face, highlighting the texture of his skin, the solidity of his skull, and the dark shadow on the studio wall.  

Peterson’s photographs have resonant depth, unlike our modern digital snapshots of groups of people that make their subjects look like cardboard figures flattened against the wall.  Nothing is blurred, even though these two men are in motion; one imagines the exultant, gutty sounds they make.   00000002

Many photographs of trumpet players catch them straight-on, their faces wracked with the effort of hitting a high note.  Foreshortening makes them look tiny behind the bell of their horn.  This June 1939 photograph, taken from the side, catches Roy Eldridge at the Arcadia Ballroom as he takes a breath between multi-noted phrases.  Taking in air, he appears to be smiling, and it’s a good possibility he is.  To his right, tenor saxophonist Franz Jackson is clapping his hands, an arranged routine — the band marking time rhythmically as Eldridge, in the best Louis manner, hits some high ones at the climax of a hot number.  The bassist, who may be Ted Sturgis, is concentrating, as is the guitarist.  Jackson’s section-mate in the reeds is also keeping time enthusiastically.  Peterson has framed his shot so that Eldridge and his horn are central, an upturned capital letter L, with all the light focused on that silvery mute, where all the energy was focused.  Luckily for us, this band broadcast on the radio, and airshots were issued thirty-five years later . . . . so one could play these exuberant performance while burying oneself in this photograph — the nearest thing possible to going back in time.        

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In 1945, Sidney Bechet formed a quintet for an extended run at “Boston’s Hot-spot of Rhythm,” the Savoy Cafe.  This photograph captures the band when Bunk Johnson was the trumpeter; bassist Pops Foster stayed throughout the run.  Bunk had a hard time keeping up with Bechet, who seemed to have limitless energy and stamina.  Bechet also shared the front line with the rather introverted Peter Bocage; finally, the only trumpeter who could stand alongside Sidney and not be swept away was the 18-year old Johnny Windhurst, whose golden tone and youthful verve come through on airshots of the band’s “Jazz Nocturne” broadcasts. 

In this photograph, it’s hard to imagine the tempo that the band is playing, but we feel the unstated contest of wills.  Bechet is fierce: his head and eyes revealing the effort.  Pops Foster is smiling at what Sidney is playing; one side of his shirt collar is trying to break free.  Bunk is sitting down, his horn pointed downward, its shadow a dark arrow.  His face is serious, even pained.  Were his teeth bothering him?  Was he feeling the strain of trying to equal Bechet?  Was he only playing a quiet countermelody?  It’s impossible to tell, but the picture is a study in masterful power: Bechet has it, Pops Foster is riding in its wake, and Bunk looks nearly exhausted, defeated by it. 

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This photograph, taken at a Jimmy Ryan’s Sunday afternoon jam session on November 9, 1941, is the emotional opposite of the struggle bwetween Bechet and Bunk.  There is no struggle for mastery between trombonist Vic Dickenson and bassist Al Morgan.  Rather, the bell of Vic’s horn is close to Morgan’s ear.  Through that length of metal tubing, Vic is telling Morgan something important and gratifying.  What’s the secret?  Is it a characteristically deep meditation on the nature of the blues, or is it exactly why all the boys treated Sister Kate so nice?  We’ll never know, but Morgan hears it, and his smile shows that he gets it, too. 

And Peterson got it: the joy and the stress of the soloist trying to have his or her say, and the urging, happy community of jazz players bound together in common for expression and exultation.  When SWING ERA NEW YORK appeared, the best assessment of Peterson’s work came from another photographer-musician: bassist Milt Hinton, who wrote, “I saw it, lived it, Charles Peterson captured it.  His visual imagery of the swing era in New York is authentic, intimate, and filled with emotion.”

More photographs to come — including Billie Holiday, Frank Newton, Bobby Hackett, Eddie Condon, and some surprises. 

FATS, BABY, IVIE (on Ebay)

Ah, if I had mountains of disposable income, walls that yearned to be covered with people’s signatures, and didn’t mind turning my apartment into Ye Olde Hot Jazze Museum, what I couldn’t do on Ebay.  Exhibits 1, 2, and 3:

1.  Inscribed to Bud, circa 1939, this picture seems far too small to contain Mr. Waller.

2.  Someone was lucky enough to have this 78, a white fountain pen, and Baby Dodds in the same astral plane.

3.  On purple paper — delicate, like Miss Anderson herself.

FATS Ebay

BABY Ebay

IVIE Ebay

Talismans, artifacts, relics, all — doing homage to the sacred dead.

MY NEXT CAREER

Could this be my next career, my dream job?

Personnel Vacancy Notice

Project Archivist

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Queens College, CUNY

Scope of work: The Project Archivist is responsible for the arrangement, preservation, description, and use of the materials in the Jack Bradley Collection, a monumental collection of sound recordings, photographs, personal papers, artifacts, film, and other materials. The Project Archivist is also responsible for the retrospective conversion of existing catalog records.

Duties:

1. Arrange, preserve, and catalog materials in the Jack Bradley Collection.

2. Advise the Director on supplies and equipment needed for the project.

3. Interview, train, hire, and supervise support staff (student interns, volunteers, etc.)

4. Perform retrospective conversion of catalog records for other collections from Microsoft Access to PastPerfect. Catalog materials in backlog.

5. Other duties as assigned.

Reporting structure:

1. The Project Archivist reports to the Director, Louis Armstrong House Museum.

2. The Project Archivist supervises student interns, volunteers, and other support staff.

Minimum requirements:

1. MLS from an ALA-accredited institution or Masters in Jazz History or equivalent professional experience.

2. Ability to lift 50 pounds.

3. Excellent references.

Highly desired:

1. Expert knowledge in the history of jazz, especially the life and career of Louis Armstrong.

2. Graduate degree in music, African-American Studies, American culture, or related discipline.

Hours: 35 hours per week, to be scheduled Monday-Saturday.

Annual Salary: $40,950. Full benefits.

Term of Employment: This is an IMLS grant funded position for which employment is anticipated to run from October 1, 2009 until September 30, 2011. If additional funds become available, employment may continue past the expiration of the grant.

To apply: Mail cover letter, curriculum vitae, and names and telephone numbers of three references to Search Committee, Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, Queens, New York, 11368 or submit electronically to info@louisarmstronghouse.org with the subject header “Project Archivist.” The position is open until filled.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum and GrantsPlus are Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Americans with Disabilities Act/E-verify employers.

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Dear Mr. Cogswell,

Would you be willing to entertain my application?  I don’t have a degree in Jazz History, and I don’t make a habit of lifting fifty-pound objects, but I could train for that and have been listening to Louis since 1959 or so.  Surely that would count for something.  And if you grant me an interview, I’ll get a bran’ new suit and wear my stickpin (it’s a Tecla pearl).  I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Michael Steinman (at the above blog-address)

P.S.  Of course, all of the above is only if Ricky Riccardi turns it down.